Change the Kashmir policy

Anti-terrorism units of Army, police and the other operational security forces/agencies have termed/described the elimination of more than a dozen terrorists and arrest of one, on Sunday, as a major success in anti-terrorist operations. “Indeed it is” – but with a caveat that its collateral damage of death of civilians and security personnel and damage to civilian property is painful. Subtle people’s support to militancy by large participation in the funerals of slain militants and large-scale protests across the Valley are the concomitant issues that should worry all and the government in particular. The normal life in the valley is paralysed. Curfew like situation in large parts of the Valley prevails. Businesses, schools, colleges have shut in response to the strike call given by separatists leadership. The Tourist session is in peril.

Within the Kashmir Valley, despite the success of the security forces in eliminating top militant leaders, the recruitment to the militant ranks is on the rise with even highly educated youngsters choosing to pick up the gun. Militancy in the Valley also seemed to be changing qualitatively with fidayeen attacks taking place. The educated young man and son of a recently appointed chief of hardline Hurriyat is the latest voluntary addition into the ranks of militants.

Kashmir is on the edge by the continuing unrest for the last few years and sizeable local youth volunteering for recruitment to militancy. It is viewed as a result of deep mass alienation caused due to mismanagement of Kashmir affairs from time to time. The unrest has always been attributed as an offshoot of cross-border hostilities and terrorism. The unabated turmoil and political turbulence in Kashmir is rooted deep in the denial of justice, disrespect to legitimate aspirations and frequent skullduggery resorted by New Delhi, say, the Kashmiri intelligentsia and main stream legislators. Kashmir deserves to be managed with a “grand vision “that can encompass a comprehensive process to resolve the Imbroglio instead of dithering Kashmir craves for genuine peace and not the peace around graveyards”.

The militancy in the Valley, however, also seems to have developed an autonomous raison d’etre in the absence of any political dialogue. Kashmir analysts are surprised as to whether New Delhi’s policy managers are so incompetent, apolitical and naive, not willing to leave any space or room for the Kashmiri leadership to exert moderating influences that could prevent youngsters from taking up the gun.

Kashmir is on unabated boil for more than 29 years. Tens of thousands of people, both civilians and soldiers have died and population of Kashmiri Pandits exiled. Kashmir affairs are seemingly messed up. Hit by militarised hostilities and day-to-day shelling along the LOC, civilian populations in border areas are suffering the most.

The unusual escalation is resulting in a high death toll – the casualties in January 2018 alone equalled the figure for the entire 2017. And 2017 itself was an exceptional year for cease-fire violations, as they represented a six-fold increase compared to 2015.The cease-fire understanding reached between India-Pakistan in 2003 was violated with impunity with small arms fire giving way to heavy mortar and finally, even artillery. The collateral damage to civilians living in the border areas is colossal.

On the name of self-determination, people have no voice of their own and the emotions are controlled and charged by proxies. People seem to be slaves of the dictates of the terrorists and separists. People know the disastrous consequences of the harm Pakistan and terrorists have done to the current and future generations of Kashmir. But the anti-India sentiment campaigned over the years is so strong that people refuse to see the logic. It is evident that Pakistan has effectively disabled Kashmir politically, psychologically and changed the demography of the Valey.

The government should acknowledge that use of military force is not a solution to the complex situation of Kashmir. It has to be blend with engagement and dialogue with all the stakeholders. It is the psychological, attitudinal, social, political and economic grievances that need to be addressed. Therefore the Government should worry more about wining trust of the people back and let the terrorism be handled by the security forces. New Delhi needs to approach the issues keeping in sight the fact that ‘India’s strategic interests are intertwined with the goodwill of the ‘Valley’s ordinary People including Kashmiri Pandits’ and not the land alone. Before the new age violent unrest and upsurge yet gets out of hand, New Delhi needs to deal with the issues in hand with a “grand vision”.

Absence of engagement and dialogue has resulted into a situation where stakeholders are behaving “like a bull in a china shop”. Political dialogue with all the stakeholders is needed through an internationally acknowledged jurisprudence for conflict resolution. For New Delhi it would be prudent and astute approach to reach a resolution of “ Kashmir” imbroglio. Prime minister’s flip flop political and diplomatic efforts so far have not brought peace in Kashmir. Therefore change of policy perceptions is the only way forward. Kashmir calls for peace and its people crave for peaceful life for future generations.

 (The writer is a senior advocate and chairman (Kashmir Policy and Strategy Group))